Supreme Court Ruling Allows End of Court-Supervised Desegregation

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court Tuesday made it easier for school districts nationwide to abandon forced busing of students once racial desegregation has been achieved.

The court's 5-3 decision in a case from Oklahoma City said federal court supervision over previously segregated public schools should end if officials complied with court-imposed desegregation plans and ``the vestiges of past discrimination'' have been eliminated.

Civil rights lawyers had urged the court to adopt a stricter standard. They said ending such court supervision would result in a return to neighborhood schools and racial ``resegregation.''

Invoking the high court's 1954 decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court: ``From the very first, federal supervision of local school systems was intended as a temporary measure to remedy past discrimination.''

He added: ``Dissolving a desegregation decree after the local authorities have operated in compliance with it for a reasonable period of time properly recognizes that necessary concern for the important values of local control of public school systems.''

The high court also instructed the lower courts to decide whether current racial segregation in Oklahoma City's housing is ``the result of private decision-making and economics, and. . .too attenuated to be a vestige of former school segregation.''

Justices Byron R. White, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy joined Rehnquist.

The court's three most liberal members - Justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens - dissented.

Justice David H. Souter, who joined the court after the Oklahoma City case was argued in October, did not participate.

In writing for the dissenters, Marshall said, ``By focusing heavily on present and future compliance. . .the majority's standard ignores how the stigmatic harm identified (in the court's 1954 ruling) can persist even after the state ceases actively to enforce segregation.''

Marshall is the court's only black member, and was the lead lawyer for civil rights forces in the landmark 1954 case.

His dissenting opinion Tuesday said past Supreme Court decisions established ``that the effects of past discrimination remain chargeable to the school district regardless of its lack of continued enforcement of segregation, and the remedial decree is required until those effects have been finally eliminated. …